New Mexico Driving Tour

12 Days in the High Desert

A leisurely drive through the mesmerizing Southwestern landscapes of New Mexico is always unforgettable.

This 12-day itinerary encompasses the best of Santa Fe and northern New Mexico’s high desert. It includes historic pueblo tours, spa treatments, fine dining, hospitable hotels and sensational ranch retreats. 

Begin the trip by exploring Santa Fe for a few days, then drive to Taos via Chimayó, where weaving shops take center stage. After touring the many art galleries of Taos, experience what will likely be the highlight of the trip: three days at Ted Turners Vermejo Park Ranch. End your vacation back in Santa Fe, at the long-recommended hotel The Inn of the Five Graces.

Read the full account of our editor’s trip to New Mexico.


Itinerary Highlights

Our itineraries are for your inspiration. Please contact a travel advisor to customize this itinerary to fit your needs.

  • Drive the Turquoise Trail
  • Visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
  • Book a class at the Santa Fe School of Cooking
  • Tour the Puye Cliff Dwellings
  • Browse museums and galleries in Taos
  • Spend three nights at Vermejo Park Ranch

Trip Overview

Day 1 : Arrive in Albuquerque
Drive the Turquoise Trail to Santa Fe
Day 2 : Explore Santa Fe
Take in a museum and historic mission
Day 3 : Santa Fe
Take a cooking class
Day 4 : Head to Taos
Visit the Puye Cliff Dwellings along the way
Day 5 - 8 : Vermejo Park Ranch
Day 9 - 10 : Return to Santa Fe
Check in to Sunrise Springs Spa Resort
Day 11 : Downtown Santa Fe
Explore Canyon Road
Day 12 : Fly home
Leave Albuquerque
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Day 1 : Arrive in Albuquerque

After landing at the airport in Albuquerque, pick up your car and drive along the incredibly scenic Turquoise Trail, a byway linking Albuquerque and Santa Fe that takes about 90 minutes. Along this route, be sure to stop at some of the alluring pottery shops and galleries in the town of Madrid and the sculpture garden in Cerrillos. Continue on to Santa Fe and check into the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi hotel downtown.

The Sandia Mountains near Albuquerque
The Sandia Mountains near Albuquerque - PhotoBeard/Thinkstock

I recommend heading to the rooftop cantina at Coyote Cafe for prime sunset viewing while sipping a creative cocktail. For dinner, head downstairs to the restaurant for contemporary Southwestern cuisine that highlights native ingredients.

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Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi

Ideally situated adjacent to Santa Fe’s Plaza, this hotel contains 58 stylish rooms within a modest adobe building.

Day 2 : Explore Santa Fe

Spend today exploring downtown Santa Fe. Breakfast at lively Cafe Pasqual’s is delicious, and the restaurant offers a sense of the true spirit of Santa Fe. First-time visitors to the city shouldn’t miss the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the Loretto Chapel (to see the “miraculous staircase”) and the San Miguel Chapel, a beautiful Spanish Colonial mission. Along the arcade in front of the adobe Palace of the Governors, you can meet artisans from various pueblos throughout New Mexico and buy their handmade crafts and jewelry. The Compound and Restaurant Martín are excellent options for lunch and dinner.

"My Front Yard, Summer" (1941), by Georgia O'Keeffe, displayed in the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

Day 3 : Santa Fe

Book a morning class at the Santa Fe School of Cooking, which is popular with both tourists and locals alike. The school offers lessons designed to educate students on the culinary traditions of northern New Mexican cuisine. You can choose a session that concentrates on a specific dish, such as tamales or rellenos, or a session that highlights a particular ingredient, such as green or red chiles. We signed up for the outstanding Traditional New Mexican class, which provided a much broader picture of Southwestern cooking techniques. Lunch is included, and beverages can be purchased. 

The demonstration room at the Santa Fe School of Cooking
Shops in the Railyard District

In the afternoon, explore the stylish and artsy Railyard District, a five-minute drive south of the main plaza. SITE Santa Fe is an excellent museum that presents contemporary artwork primarily created by emerging artists. There is also a farmers market, a movie theater and a number of galleries. The Casa Nova Gallery offers beautiful furnishings and rugs. 

Geronimo or Santacafé are first-rate options for dinner.

Day 4 : Head to Taos

Head out early this morning and drive to the Puye Cliff Dwellings in the Santa Clara Canyon, 45 minutes from downtown Santa Fe. This was the home of more than 1,500 Santa Clara Pueblo Indians between the 10th century and about 1580, when a fire drove them to the lower Rio Grande River Valley. These original dwellings were caves hollowed into the cliff face, and the mesa top was the location of the kiva (subterranean ceremonial chamber) and community structures. The tour is fascinating, as visitors can explore these caves and climb down into the kiva. (However, we do not recommend this tour for those scared of heights or with mobility issues.) 

The Puye Cliff Dwellings in Santa Clara Canyon near Española
The Puye Cliff Dwellings in Santa Clara Canyon near Española - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

If you are interested in visiting a traditional weaving shop, make your way to the one-of-a-kind Centinela Traditional Arts in the small town of Chimayó. The owner, Irvin, is happy to show visitors his loom, and the tapestries hung high on adobe-style walls are beautiful.

From here, head to the legendary town of Taos, which is a 70-minute drive away. We have not found a hotel in Taos that is up to Andrew Harper standards, but the Taos Inn is a historic property conveniently located downtown. If you stay the night in Taos, the best restaurant for dinner is the Love Apple. My spring pea salad with a creamy poblano buttermilk dressing was outstanding, as was the baked tamal in a traditional mole sauce. 

Day 5 - 8 : Vermejo Park Ranch

Enjoy a traditional Southwestern breakfast at the Taos Inn, then spend the morning exploring the town. Taos has a storied past as an art colony, and visiting museums dedicated to some of the most famous of the luminaries who made the town their home is riveting. The Millicent Rogers Museum and the residence of painter E.L. Blumenschein were my two favorites. The Taos Pueblo is a great stop to pick up handmade crafts by local Indian inhabitants.

The Taos Pueblo in Taos
The Taos Pueblo in Taos - JacobH/istock/Getty Images

From here, head up to Vermejo Park Ranch, nearly three hours to the northeast, an exceptional hotel owned by media mogul Ted Turner. The ranch encompasses nearly 585,000 acres, a large herd of resident bison, a main lodge surrounded by guesthouses and an eight-bedroom lodge located at an elevation of 10,200 feet (book a room in the opulent Casa Grande). A range of activities includes seasonal turkey hunts, fishing trips, wildlife safari tours, horseback riding and photography workshops. This ranch feels like a national park that is free of all visitors, and we recommend at least three days here.

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Vermejo

With its own large herd of resident bison, this luxurious 550,000-acre ranch is owned by media mogul Ted Turner.

Part of Ted Turner’s bison herd roaming Vermejo Park Ranch
Atrium

Day 9 - 10 : Return to Santa Fe

It will be hard to leave Vermejo Park Ranch, but Sunrise Springs Spa Resort, a beautiful wellness retreat outside Santa Fe, provides some compensation. The main draw of the hotel is the extensive list of fitness and wellness classes, which range from arts workshops to gardening classes to unique interactions with chickens as well as puppies in training to be service dogs. The spa is, as expected for a destination health retreat, first-rate, but be sure not to miss the mineral-infused open-air soaking tubs and Japanese-style wooden tubs. 

Spa Lobby
Spa Lobby - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

The cuisine in the on-site restaurant is excellent, but for a fine-dining experience nearby, head to Arroyo Vino, which offers an Italian-influenced contemporary menu that changes seasonally. It also has a well-stocked wine shop. 

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Sunrise Springs Spa Resort

This serene 70-acre wellness retreat with lush gardens, fountains and walking trails is a 20-minute drive from downtown Santa Fe.

Day 11 : Downtown Santa Fe

After two days at the serene oasis of Sunrise Springs, you will surely leave feeling rejuvenated and healthier. Though the spa resort feels a world away from bustling downtown Santa Fe, it takes only 20 minutes to get to your next hotel, The Inn of the Five Graces, just a short walk from the historic Sena Plaza. After check-in, explore the winding gallery-lined Canyon Road. 

The Inn of the Five Graces in Santa Fe
The Inn of the Five Graces in Santa Fe - Kate Russell Photography

I recommend having dinner at El Farol, a gourmet Spanish restaurant conveniently located in the heart of this area. Reserve one of the dinner shows in advance to watch dancers from the National Institute of Flamenco perform. 

<em>El Farol</em> in Santa Fe
El Farol in Santa Fe - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
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The Inn of the Five Graces

A short walk from Santa Fe’s historic Plaza, this family-run inn is housed within several restored buildings around secluded stone courtyards.

Day 12 : Fly home

Enjoy breakfast at the hotel, then head back to Albuquerque for an afternoon flight out.

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